#92 Moving From Don’t to Do?

On November 12, 2014

Hello Everyone,

Now that the dust has settled a bit, I’d like to offer my two cents on the mid-term elections.

Despite what some of you may think, I am not despondent. In fact, I have always thought that it is healthy for our democracy for the pendulum to swing, as long as the arc is not too wide. Remember that I voted for President Reagan and President Bush, 41.

Here’s where I think we are now: can the Republican-controlled Congress make the critical move from “don’t to do”? I sincerely hope it can, for the sake of all of us.

If it can’t change from being “the party of no,” we should expect the pendulum to swing back again in just two years.

As far as I can tell, the Republicans have had only one major accomplishment over the last six years: making President Obama “unpopular.” (If I missed any other major Republican accomplishments, I’m sure you’ll let me know.) In my view, they were ingenious in creating gridlock and then convincing enough voters to blame it on the President. Remember what in-coming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said as I noted in #63, “Blocking Obama’s Bipartisan Promise”:

Sen…McConnell blatantly revealed his strategy a mere month after the President was inaugurated, when he famously asserted, “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Sen. McConnell’s top priority wasn’t to “fix the economy” or “create jobs” – of course, he couldn’t have delivered, even if he wanted to. But, he could deliver on an intention to withhold the “bi.” Just link arms and say no to everything. Brilliant. [By definition,] Sen. McConnell did have it within his power to cause this president to fail to deliver on one of his central campaign promises [– being bipartisan].

In the mid-terms, I admired how the Republican leadership seemingly reined in the fringe elements in its party (read “Tea Party”) to avoid nominating unworthy candidates. Now, the challenge will be to rein in those same fringe elements in the new House.

Since 2010, we have essentially had minority rule in our legislature. With few exceptions, the House leadership has invoked the “Hastert Rule” – no legislation will be passed without a majority Republican vote. According to Wikipedia, the easy, but not always reliable, source:

The Hastert Rule, also known as the “majority of the majority” rule, is an informal governing principle used by Republican Speakers of the House of Representatives since the mid-1990s to maintain their speakerships…The Hastert Rule’s introduction is widely credited to former Speaker Dennis Hastert…however, Newt Gingrich [Mr. Hastert’s predecessor], followed the same rule.

Therefore, the minority fringe of the majority Republican House party has been empowered to block legislation.

Similarly in the Senate, the 60-vote filibuster rule has permitted the Republican minority to obstruct at every turn. As I’ve heard President Obama say, you can’t get anything done if the other side always takes a “maximalist” position.

Now that the Republicans are in the majority in both houses, it will be interesting to see if they can return to majority rule and actually legislate.

Following the media feeding frenzy over the elections, I finally heard one sober piece two days afterward. Here is what Ailsa Chang said on NPR:

McConnell has spent much of the past six years openly delighting in blocking key parts of President Obama’s agenda. But in his first post-election press conference in Louisville, Kentucky, it was McConnell reminding everyone the president could block him….

McConnell has a complex balancing act on his hands in the next two years. To retain control of the Senate in 2016, Republicans will have to prove they can get something done, and that means shifting their tone with the president so many of them campaigned against…

But here’s the thing, it takes 60 votes to get any legislation through the Senate. Republicans will have a smaller majority than the Democrats did, and some Republicans aren’t exactly jumping up and down to promise their loyalties to McConnell, [like] Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

A handful of [the more moderate Republicans] will be up for re-election in 2016 in states Obama either won once or twice. These Republicans could feel pressured to move to the center and compromise with Democrats. If McConnell wants to hold on to the Senate majority, he may have to let that happen…

The man who once wanted to make Obama a one-term president must now avoid becoming a one-term majority leader.

The essential question: has the pendulum swung back toward the middle? If so, the gridlock will ease and a few positive things may get done in the next few years. But if it has swung too far, and the negativity persists, or even intensifies, it will be hard to pin it on President Obama next time, and the voters will make another change. As we’ve just seen, the voters are primarily interested in “do,” not “don’t.”

Please, as always, pass it on. And, remember that previous Obamagrams are stored on www.obamagrams.com



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